From Planting to Process, The Life of a Coffee Bean - Part 1
Here at Seattle Coffee Gear we're passionate about sharing the knowledge we've gained about our favorite subject: Coffee! From how beans are grown to brewing the perfect espresso, and so much more, Join us Mondays to learn!
Coffee goes through quite the life before it makes it to your pantry. We think learning about how the bean makes it from farm to roaster is just as important as whether you brew a pourover or press. That's why we've decided to dive into the farming and processing of coffee beans for this two part series!
Choosing a bean
Obviously the first step in producing coffee is picking the type of plant you want to grow. There are actually over 2 dozen species, but only a few of them produce beans fit for roasting.
The first, and most common, is Coffea Arabica, usually shortened to "Arabica." You've probably heard of Arabica coffee plants, because they make up almost all of the roasts you'd buy from us or other specialty coffee retailers. Arabica plants need a temperature range of 64-70 degrees Fahrenheit to thrive. For this reason, they're typically grown in tropical climates at higher elevations. This need for steeper farmland makes mechanical farming virtually impossible, so most Arabica coffee is hand picked. Arabica coffee plants are also more susceptible to pests than the Robusta plants we'll discuss next. For these reasons, while more common, Arabica beans tend to be more expensive.
By contrast, Coffea canephora, or Robusta coffee plants, are heartier and cheaper to produce than Arabica. These plants thrive in a wider temperature band and handle pests better than their more fragile counterparts. Frequently used in instant coffee, Robusta beans tend to be higher in caffeine and harsher tasting.
Finally, Coffea liberica Bull. ex Hiern, otherwise known as Liberian coffee, is the only other coffee plant species grown for commercial sale. This plant is grown in Malaysia, Liberia, and Côte d'Ivoire, and makes up less than 5% of the coffee market. Liberian Coffee is heartier than Arabica and tends to have a flavor profile more reminiscent of Robusta beans. This coffee species can be a good fit for blends.
Where to grow?
As you're probably already aware, coffee is grown all over the world. As noted above, tropical and sub tropical climates with large elevation changes make for the best places to grow coffee. Because of this, it makes sense that roughly a third of the world's coffee is produced in Brazil. With that said, dozens of other countries from around the world produce coffee. Places like Vietnam, Colombia, Indonesia, and Honduras produce hundreds of thousands of metric tons of coffee per year. On the flip side, though countries like Kenya, Rwanda, and Burundi produce less, they can be highly sought after for variations in taste.
We'll dive into a more complex look at each region's crops and their characteristics in later posts. For now though, just know that everything from soil, to sunlight, to elevation, and more goes into making each crop unique. This variety is great for the budding coffee enthusiast, because it gives you a huge range of beans to try. It also gives you a great checklist of things to look out for when buying coffee.
Join us next time, where we'll take a look at the variety of ways to process coffee after it's harvested!
Thanks for reading, and as always, remember to make coffee you love!